Manchester United’s Carabao Cup defence ended away at Bristol City on Wednesday, with José Mourinho's men going down 2-1 away at the Championship high fliers. It was a particularly poor performance from United, who could have no complaints as they crashed out on the final whistle.
The game’s first few minutes offered clues that this would certainly be no walkover. The Ashton Gate crowd was an excitable one, and geed up by the buoyant atmosphere, City gave as good as they got. The first chance of the match was United’s, coming as Ibrahimović’s far-post nudge was deflected onto the crossbar by Nathan Baker, though goalscoring opportunities were otherwise scarce.
United rattled the woodwork a second time midway through the opening period, though it was the result of individual brilliance rather than concerted pressure. Marcus Rashford found precious space on the edge of the City penalty area, using it to whip a brilliant shot onto the base of Luke Steele’s post.
For their part, City’s best first-half chance came just past the half-hour, when defender Hörður Magnússon caught a sweet volley on the edge of the box and called Sergio Romero into a photogenic diving stop. While United would have been impressed with the hosts’ defensive solidity, they offered relatively little in attack before the halftime whistle.
Complacency, however, cost United early in the second half, when a simple City pass sliced straight through their back line. Local lad Joe Bryan still had plenty to do from out on the left side of the penalty area, but his rocket arrowed straight into the top corner of Romero's goal, and the hosts had an unlikely — or perhaps all-too-likely — lead.
That lead lasted all of six minutes, with a driven free-kick from Ibrahimović restoring parity just short of the hour. The Swede’s low shot took a nick off Korey Smith on its way beneath the Robins’ wall, and Steele proved powerless to prevent it rippling the back of the net.
United would've expected the momentum to swing in their favour, though the game remained frustratingly bitty. Not until the final quarter-hour did they carve out another chance, though when Romelu Lukaku saw his glancing header well saved by the sprawling Steele. Bristol followed up with an equally good opportunity, though Jamie Paterson couldn't quite wrap his foot around the ball as he darted in off the right, and the ball sailed wide of the far post.
Extra time seemed inevitable, but City had other ideas. With just seconds left on the clock, a delicate chipped pass found Smith free in the United penalty area, having slipped all too easily away from his marker Victor Lindelöf. In one smooth motion he swivelled goalwards and slotted beneath Romero, with United having no time to strike back. The final whistle and a pitch invasion ensued, though United’s Carabao Cup campaign had ended with a whimper.